Vegan pesto rice is the perfect weeknight meal. It uses just 10 ingredients & takes about 8 minutes to make. Eat it on its own, as a side dish, or as a base for delicious pesto rice bowls with your favorite toppings!
Last week David went to an after work going away party for a co-worker while I was at home nursing a headache. He offered that he could pick up dinner on his way home, but I knew we had mounds of fresh summer produce just waiting to be used in the refrigerator. I didn’t want the best of the season to go to waste!
So I looked over my options and decided to make pesto rice bowls. It’s a meal that comes together in under 10 minutes and takes little effort to make.
What’s the secret? Frozen rice.
Use frozen rice to save time
While rice is easy enough to make, brown rice requires some wait time (at least 30 minutes’ worth). So I like to keep frozen rice on hand for bowl or stir-fry emergencies.
As I mentioned in my favorite vegan Trader Joe’s products post, their frozen organic brown rice is one of my must haves. The box comes with 3 packages of cooked brown rice inside that can be heated and eaten in just minutes.
The Trader Joe’s directions suggest poking a hole in the plastic packaging and then heating in the microwave. I don’t feel comfortable microwaving food in plastic, however.
So I empty mine from its plastic wrap, put it into a microwave safe bowl, and heat for two minutes, stopping once to stir.
Cook it however you feel comfortable. And of course, if you’d prefer to make rice from scratch, that’s great too. (Homemade rice freezes beautifully too, FYI!)
And now for the homemade pesto…
Pesto is an excellent way to pack in those greens. Usually if a person wanted to eat over a cup of leafy greens in one sitting, it would require a lot of chewing. But with pesto, it’s all broken down into a garlicky sauce. It’s easy to effortlessly load up with greens in your meal.
Ingredients in vegan pesto:
The thing that I love about pesto is that there are endless possibilities when it comes to ingredients.
Fresh basil is the standard leafy green in traditional basil. However, I like to use a combination of basil & cilantro.
I know that not everyone is a fan of cilantro. So you could either swap it out for more fresh basil, or go for a different green like spinach, parsley, or kale.
Nuts & seeds
Pine nuts are the standard nut for pesto and the one I used in this pesto rice recipe. However, pine nuts can be on the pricey side. So some other favorite nuts for pesto are pumpkin seeds (pepitas), pistachios, almonds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and cashews.
Make it cheesy
Traditional pesto usually has parmesan in it. However, for vegan, dairy-free pesto I like to use a combination of miso paste and nutritional yeast flakes. Miso paste gives rich, umami roundness and nutritional yeast offers that bold cheesiness that balances the grassiness of basil.
There are a few vegan parmesan options on the market as well, if you’d prefer to go that route!
Love those add-ins
With pesto, I often like to throw in a variety of add-ins to personalize the pesto. Sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, or artichoke hearts all work well. However, since I’m using today’s pesto for bowls, which will have additional toppings of its own, I didn’t add any this time around.
Extra virgin olive oil
Pesto can be as dry or oily as you prefer. Even with oil-free pesto, there’s usually enough moisture in the pesto and wetness on the pasta or rice that oil isn’t strictly necessary for getting the pesto to spread. However, oil can help with the body of the pesto.
Plus, frozen rice like I’m using today doesn’t have as much moisture as the kind you’d make on the stove. So I added a Tablespoon in this version. If you avoid oil, feel free to omit it or use water instead to fill it out.
Not everyone can tolerate raw garlic, and so I don’t go too heavy with it in my pesto. If you’re really concerned about it, you could use roasted garlic which is milder. And if you’re not at all concerned about it, add more to your liking!
How to avoid brown pesto
Basil pesto tends to brown as it’s exposed to the air and oxidizes. So for the brightest, cheeriest pesto, make it fresh and use it right away.
If you’d like to make the pesto ahead of time, you can help homemade pesto to keep its bright green hue by putting a layer of extra virgin olive oil over the top of it to keep it from coming into contact with the air. Or cover the pesto with plastic wrap touching it on top, like you’d do with guacamole.
How to make vegan pesto rice
So now that you have all of the vegan pesto ingredients, put them into a food processor. Process them until they’re completely broken down, stopping once to stir any ingredients that have gotten caught up on the sides of the bowl.
Once it’s fully broken down, spoon the pesto onto your warmed brown rice. Stir completely, so that all of the rice is evenly coated.
Give it a taste and add more salt, if needed.
Making pesto rice bowls
Now here’s where the real fun comes in – making pesto rice bowls! As with any bowl situation, it’s all about the toppings.
Here are some pesto rice bowl topping ideas to get you started:
Something protein dense
- Grilled lemon tofu
- Roasted chickpeas in the oven or air fryer
- Vegan chick’n strips
- Toasted pine nuts
- Jarred grilled artichoke hearts
- Kalamata olives
- Warmed Castelvetrano olives with lemon & garlic (Use olives without pits for bowl purposes.)
Cooked or raw vegetables
- Quartered cherry tomatoes or diced summer tomatoes
- Roasted asparagus
- Steamed broccoli or spring peas
- Sautéed broccolini & kale
- Roasted delicata squash
- Caprese salad
David called when he was on the way home, and by the time he arrived dinner was ready to eat. You’ve got to love a meal that’s packed with good-for-you ingredients & quicker than takeout.